‘Ostalgia’ comes to the Bunker with Good Bye, Lenin!

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Cold War, Cold War Movies, Events

Written by Henriette Riegel

Excitement is building for our second Cold War Cinema night, featuring the funny and moving German film, Good Bye, Lenin! Released in 2003, this film pokes fun at German reunification and is part of the trend of critically-acclaimed films portraying the former East Germany, such as Sonnenallee and Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). Goodbye Lenin is a family drama that unfolds in a most unusual situation, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of an ideologically-divided Germany. Told through the eyes of a young man, Alex (played by Daniel Brühl), we get a rare glimpse into a generation born and raised in a socialist system. Unlike their elders, East German youths were typically uninterested in politics but found themselves caught up in the momentous happenings going on around them.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

Alex is from a single-parent family; his father abandoned the family early on to escape to the West. His mother (played by Katrin Saß) is a faithful socialist who spends her time writing to the government to improve the state of socialist women’s underwear. Alex is caught up in a dissident demonstration and his mother witnesses his arrest. She suffers a heart attack and falls into an eight-month long coma that coincides with the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification.

Flash forward to the day when Alex’s mother miraculously awakes! Her health is very tenuous and Alex is warned that she cannot have any excitement or upset.

Alex, his sister Ariane, and Alex’s new girlfriend Lara hatch a plan to recreate the old East German lifestyle that is familiar to their mother. They go to extreme (and hilarious) lengths to make time stand still in order to protect their mother from learning that she is now living in a capitalist society.

Ampelmännchen in action!

Ampelmännchen in action!

Gummi Bears

Gummi Bears

The film plays into the current trend of glorifying the former East German cultural identity, and in particular its social system and sense of community. ‘Ostalgia’, as this trend is called, can be seen in specific products that became hard to find after reunification, such as pickles from the Spreewald. A particular symbol of Ostalgia is the former Easter German pedestrian traffic symbol, the Ampelmännchen (little traffic light man), which can still be seen in many former East German cities. Ostalgia fictionalizes a regime now gone. In a similar fashion, Alex creates a fictional East Germany (and adds many improvements of his own to this fiction) in order to protect his mother’s health.

Having personally lived in the neighbourhood where Goodbye Lenin is set, watching the film brought back a flood of memories of the complex political and cultural subtleties of a Berlin which is in many ways still struggling with reunification.

By experiencing this poignant film in Canada’s Cold War Museum, I hope that viewers can begin to understand what everyday life during and after the Cold War must have been like at a time when both sides were so close physically and yet so distant politically.

Please join us for our Cold War Cinema night at the Diefenbunker, Tuesday May 15th at 7:00pm. Please visit our website for complete details.

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Comments
  1. Nadine says:

    Fantastic film! What a great venue to show such a film also. I’m definitely going to this.

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